Friday, November 26, 2010

Are Trans People Happy After Transition?

I recently came across a story at the Christian Insitute that I found extremely disturbing (I know, that is what I get for reading that nonsense).  Though I am a cisgendered woman, it troubled me to such a degree that I feel compelled to comment.

It began with the story of Bruce and Brian Reimer - a pair of twin boys born in Canada in 1965.  When the boys were babies, they were having difficulty urinating.  It was decided that a simple circumcision would deal with the issue.  Unfortunately, one of the boy's penises was burned off.  Left with a tragic decision, the parents along with the guidance of psychologist  Dr John Money, decided to raise him as a girl.  This obviously led to various issues and in the end, the child in question committed suicide. Rather than admit that this experiment was a failure, it was touted as a success in medical journals. To me, this would indicate that subconscious sex is something we are born knowing and the fact that Bruce rejected his assignment as female, means that gender identity is at least partially biological. Had the article stuck to this assumption, I don't believe that I would have felt compelled to write this post.  Instead of understanding Bruce's experience as an indication that we need to believe trans people when they tell us that their perceived gender is false, the article used it as a foundation to suggest that trans people are psychologically damaged individuals who need counseling rather than support as they negotiate their gender dysphoria.  

As evidence of this erroneous theory, the article then presented the story of Charles Kane:
This tragic story is likely to concern those who warn that gender dysphoria is a psychological problem, not a physical one. 

Earlier this month a man who underwent sex change surgery to look like a woman – then changed back – said the NHS should halt all sex change operations.

Charles Kane, who spent £100,000 on operations to make him look like a woman, says he needed counselling, not surgery.

“Based on my own experiences, I believe sex-change operations should not be allowed, and certainly not on the NHS”, he says.

Mr Kane says: “People who think they are a woman trapped in a male body are, in my opinion, completely deluded. I certainly was. 

“I needed counselling, not a sex-change operation.”

He adds: “In many ways I see myself as a victim of the medical profession.”
 I don't wish to question the lived experience of Mr. Kane, but I do believe that it is erroneous to extrapolate from his experience to suggest that all trans people have psychological issues. So many have said repeatedly that after starting hormones, having SRS, or simply living as the gender of their choice, that they are extremely happy and finally feel like who they were meant to be.  Just recently, Patti Dawn Swansson who used to be a sports columnist for the Winnipeg Sun, publicly spoke about how completing SRS has made her the happiest she has ever been.  She talked about the turmoil of living in a body that didn't match who she was.  Why is her story to be considered outside of the norm, while that of Mr. Kane is deemed representative?
 

The article finished with:

In 2002 doctors from the NHS Portman Clinic – an internationally acclaimed centre – stated that after surgery, “what many patients find is that they are left with a mutilated body, but the internal conflicts remain”.

Many transsexuals regret their decision to live in the opposite sex. A Home Office report on transsexualism, released in April 2000, said: “Many people revert to their biological sex after living for some time in the opposite sex”.

And in 2007 a leading psychiatrist for gender dysphoria, Dr Russell Reid, was found guilty of serious professional misconduct by the General Medical Council (GMC). 

The tribunal concluded that the doctor had acted inappropriately and not in the best interests of his patients after complaints that he had rushed five patients into hormone treatment and sex change surgery without properly assessing them.
 SRS obviously deals with the fact that the trans person in question was living in a body that did not match who they are, but it certainly will not alleviate outside issues.  If someone had mental health issues not related to their gender identity before transition, it will not disappear simply because transition has been completed.  I also believe that some are unprepared for the fact that transition also leads to dealing with transphobia.  If someone was in a position of privilege i.e. a White male of class privilege before transition, suddenly realizing that they have left that privilege behind to become a member of a very marginalized community can be jarring and induce depression.  To assume that the discontent is simply a reflection of an altered body, rather than the social reaction to the transition, totally negates the oppression that trans people must live with. Cissexism like every other ism is often invisible to those who exist with privilege because it normalizes and reifies our existence.

While this article is intent on proving that doctors do not act in the best interests of their patients because they approve SRS and hormone treatments, many trans people have reported the damage that gatekeepers have inflicted by forcing trans people to perform their version of what a trans identity is, in order to be approved from treatment. Gatekeepers have kept the number of those allowed to transition to a small percentage of those that request treatment.  In some cases, requirements included the ability to pass as the intended gender before the use of hormone treatment, extensive psychotherapy, heterosexual sexual desire, as well as essentialist performative gender for both men and women. Those that could afford the process quickly learned that deviation from the the supposed plot, would mean denial and many quickly learned both the behaviour and responses required, thus giving rise to the myth of the deceptive trans person.  Had gatekeepers actually been interested in helping, they would have understood that trans people like every other person walking the planet are individuals with various frames of reference.  

I certainly agree that doctors acting as gatekeepers have hurt the trans community, but I greatly doubt that it mirrors the examples used in the article in question.  I firmly believe that the Christian Institute did not seek to truly understand the trans experience and instead sought to initiate further discipline.  This is based in both religious hegemony and cisgender privilege.  What right does a dominant body have to tell a marginalized body what their experiences mean and how their subconscious sex should be negotiated.  I further find it problematic that the article absolutely failed to consider the ways in which isms like cissexism, sexism, and heterosexism  negatively effects the lives of trans people.  It is further unconscionable to suggest that their attempt to deconstruct gender dysphoria and the process of transitioning from one gender to another came from a place of wanting to help the trans community rather than causing further harm.

Editors Note: I felt to compelled to write this post because of the sheer horror that I felt reading the piece published by the 'Christian Monitor'. Obviously, as a cisgender woman my biases and privilege probably influenced my deconstruction of their work.  If I offended anyone with any part of this article, please know that it was not my intent.  I apologize for whatever errors I made in my work and look forward to your feedback, so that I may continue to confront and deal with my privilege.